As members of the Jewish Black Asian Forum, we are distressed and outraged at the pointless loss of life and humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The values we share, and the stories of loss and exclusion we bring to our discussions , drive us to speak out together. As members of British communities closely connected to Israel and Palestine, we call on Israel to immediately end its use of military force in Gaza and on Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel. Our government, together with other governments and international actors, must engage with the authorities in Israel, Palestine and Gaza to help facilitate a lasting peace in the region and an end to the occupation.More or less what I think, although the word "the occupation" is a little ambiguous.
At the other end of the liberal spectrum is a letter from Eva Figes, which is so vitriolic I'd like to believe she fired it off while drunk if it weren't for the fact she has previous:
At last the west is coming clean. Palestinians are freedom fighters, not terrorists, who have suffered 60 years of injustice inflicted by the real axis of evil, Israel and the US. The murderous attack on Gaza is an insane attempt at ethnic cleansing before Obama takes over.What, all Palestinians are freedom fighters? No terrorists at all?
Somewhere in between on this spectrum was a long letter (the top one on the page) by a very long list of people, some of whom I respect a lot (indeed, one even links to this blog!).
Many of the signatories profess one or another form of Marxism. Yet, in the utterly ahistorical framing of its argument, the letter violates one of Marx's core principles: that politics is always historical, that categories are always in movement. A "a war that Israel has been waging against the people of Palestine for more than 60 years. The goal of this war has never changed..." Here, history dissolves. "Israel" becomes a mythical beast, frozen in the endless repetition of its evil actions. Did the Israel of 1948 use "overwhelming military force"? Or, rather, were not the weapons it had to hand those the Palestinians used in the First Intifada?
And what do "the principle of democratic self-determination" and "the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation" mean in concrete terms? What, specifically, is the democratic self-determination of one ethnic group, if it denies that to another? What, even more to the point, does "Israel must lose"? The obligation to take sides the signatories claim is no more pressing in this case than it is in the case of the Hutu and the Tutsi, where self-determination for one can mean extermination for the other in a zero-sum game. "Justice and peaceful co-existence" cannot spring from the defeat of Israel by Hamas, any more than justice and peaceful co-existence can be achieved by bombing Gaza into dust.
It is true, of course, that the conflict is not symmetrical, and that Gaza's electorate voted for Hamas. But the signatories of the letter are stuck in the reality of the First Intifada, when the figure of "Palestinian resistance" was the child throwing stones at an Israeli tank. Since then, we have seen the militarisation of the Palestinian struggle, the evacuation of all social content from it: the suicide bomber rather than the stone thrower. And, now, in this Third Intifada, the stones have been replaced by rockets supplied by the Iranian theocracy.
So, when the signatories talk about "the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation" and say "Israel must lose", the reality is the triumph of a fascist state, not the beginning of justice. The Hamas regime, which continues to fire on Israel, which continues to deploy its its children as human shields, which murders its political opponents, which brutalises its own population, does not represent "the people of Gaza and the West Bank", any more than the Ayatollahs represent the people of Iran or the Nazi state represented the people of Germany.
What the people of Gaza need, rather than this sort of hollow gestural pseudo-solidarity, is precisely a ceasefire and humanitarian assistance. Cheering on their war-mongers will not bring them justice or peace.
The reason this letter is not just nonsense, then, but pernicious nonsense, as J Frank Parnell might have said, is the politics that follows here in the UK. The "British people must take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands," they write, "starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions." Starting with boycott, divestment and sanctions means starting with the harassment of underpaid workers in Belfast shopping malls and London Starbucks branches. It means starting with besieging scholars at SOAS and violently demanding their political loyalty. It means starting with racist threats against Jewish citizens in the UK.
And if that's where it starts, where does it go next?
UPDATE: MORE HERE.